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Tome On The Range

Disco Legs Part III: Avoiding The Void
John Doran , February 12th, 2010 07:29

The third part of a story about alcoholism, terror, stupidity and a failure in the field of mountain climbing by John Doran. Photos courtesy of Holly Barringer, Helen Forster, Stuart Green and Maria Jefferis. (The last three I owe a massive debt of gratitude to and Holly a nice bottle of wine.)

_Read part one or part two here.

DISCO LEGS

1978

They say you learn this stuff early. I'm at Richard Morris' eighth birthday party. Everyone bar me and my best mate Stu are playing games. We are standing in the corner having an orange juice drinking contest. Michael has been trying to keep up with us but after the ninth glass he is now leaning against a wall trying not to be sick. I've had fifteen glasses and I'm going demented. "I AM A DALEK!" I roar. Stu has had the same amount. He tries to pull the cloth off the table but leave all the stuff standing upright. Obviously it doesn't work.

When Anne-Marie's mum arrives I hear her whispering: "John and Stuart are stupid."

2008

I'm at the doctors. He is a great guy and if there's time I look at the crossword with him.

"What are you stuck on?" he asks.

"Overburdened postman."

"How many letters?"

"Fucking thousands Doctor."

"Very droll Mr Doran. Listen... I shouldn't really say this but sometimes when I tell people that they're dying, it's because they're terminally ill and they're gone in a few weeks. Occasionally I tell people that they're dying because, you know, they are in the same sense that all living things are but I'm trying to get them to see sense. You're now much closer to the former than the latter. I'm telling you properly this time. Your pancreas is covered in scars, your liver is a mess of adipose fat. Your blood work would make a sensitive nurse weep. If you carry on like you are now, you'll die this year or next year. You must realise the gravity of the situation... I guess you're almost a useful member of society. Wouldn't be much use if there was a war but on the balance of things it would be a shame if you died."

He glares: "I'm retiring next year. It would be good if you stopped drinking and I never saw you again."

"I think it's sinking in, doc. Thanks."

About two months later, it takes me forty minutes to get out of bed because my liver is hurting so much and even then I can't bend over far enough to tie my shoe laces. It sinks in.

It takes three run ups to stop this time and is only really deeply unpleasant when underway for about three months.

After that it's just mildly annoying.

And after that. Nothing. Or not much and not often.

Shit, if I had've realised it was like that I would have given up when I was 13.

PART THREE

2001

On Friday my friend Frank picks me up at 2pm to take us to Wales and we still manage to get stuck in the weekend rush out of town. When does it fucking start? Tuesday?

But it isn’t the bad traffic that is occupying me. After four hours I start thinking that I’m going to have a fit in the car. Heavy drinkers will know the vice-like tension that starts building up in the base of the skull, slowly increasing into spasms throughout the body when a heavy session is terminated too quickly. These are the tremens which start visiting hand in hand with the delerium. This is one of the reasons why seasoned alcoholics should not kick without professional help. They need anti-spasmodic medication like temazepam or clonazepam to stop a potentially fatal fit or heart attack.

It’s twelve years since I first had a fit. It happened when I lived in Manchester. After a fairly miserable fortnight long session where I’d drunk myself into unconsciousness every single night, I stopped drinking far too quickly. I woke up one morning and found that I’d written in really big letters along my bedroom wall in crayon: “Stop drinking you cunt.” Downstairs in the front room the house was filled in a shin-deep carpet of empty and half empty cans of ‘Inca Brew – The Beer of the Aztec Kings’. They formed a sickening meniscus between the floor and the walls. They were all over a year out of date.

I couldn’t stop shaking and crying and my skin had turned bright yellow. I was, indeed, a cunt and needed to stop drinking.

Over the course of the day I tried to pour away beer and spirits and expunge the evidence of the previous 14 days. Around about tea-time I started feeling the sick spasmodic sensation at the top of my spine which over the last two years had come to be a precursor of the waking nightmare which could only be staved off by more ale. But obeying my note to myself I decided not to drink anything.

By the time The Sky at Night came on I was starting to slip in and out of hellish hallucinations. Patrick Moore announced that astronomers had discovered a gigantic lake of alcohol in outer space and then said that it rained diamonds on Neptune. As I started to nod off, I became aware of horrific figures standing in the corners of the room. They started telling me things I didn’t want to hear. They told me I had died with my family in a car crash four years earlier.

Lying in bed later, I was tormented by the now familiar voices, the crazed techno music, the panic and the fear. When I closed my eyes I could still see the room as if my eyelids were translucent. With my eyes shut the room was the same except there was a man sat in my chair. I opened my eyes and he was gone. I close my eyes and he's there again. He's in the room. He's in the fucking room.

At one point in the night it all seemed to stop and I heard a soft popping sound and when I looked up there was an angel in the corner of my room. It was holding a mug of tea and had a big, shiny bullet instead of a head. The shakes had become distinguishable spasms that were becoming more and more violent. I felt like the inmate of a psychiatric ward undergoing EST. I was flapping up and down on my bed like a dying fish. This was eventually interrupted by a feeling of warmth. Everything went orange and I zoned out.

I came to on the other side of the room. I’d knocked my writing desk over and my arms were hurting – I’d obviously come crashing out of bed, over my desk and into the corner.

Whatever had happened had opened the dams in me. I started sweating profusely. The feeling of toxins pissing out of me made me feel tolerably better and I eventually fell asleep.

When I woke up my bed was sodden and ice cold, and Neil Armstrong was stood at the end of my bed. He was wearing a space suit and holding an American flag. The flag was flapping as if in a breeze but in his visor I could see Buzz Aldrin holding a camera, standing on the lunar surface.

I didn’t feel well for about another week. I stopped drinking for about ten days in total.

(Not long afterwards I moved in with Helen, who saved my life. Not in a heroic movie way but in a day-to-day way that at the time went unoticed. Shamefully this was because I wasn't even dimly aware that there was anything wrong.)

Sitting in Frank’s car I tell myself that I’m highly unlikely to die but I don’t want anything like that to happen again - not in front of my friends in a car on a motorway. But despite trying to take shallow breaths and think cheery pornographic thoughts the evil invisible bastard is sat behind me jabbing his cattle prod into the base of my skull. Every time I start slipping off I’m awoken seconds later by my head whipping back into the headrest or a stray arm clattering the door.

Eight hours later, as we pass Llangollen, I’m starting to chill out a little bit realising that we’re nearly there. I’m even relaxed enough to take in the view. It’s pointless going on about how beautiful the Welsh countryside is. Outside of the city and large town centres, Wales is just about as beautiful as any country can be. But suffice to say that I’ve got fond memories of the Llanberris pass because my mum and dad would let me and my sister take our seat belts off and put our heads out of the car window to look at all the mountains when we were heading up to Llandudno with the caravan. This time the Snowdonia Horseshoe is looking slightly more ominous but I am too tired and hungover to start really freaking out.

It is just getting dark as we arrive at our cottage, Glan-Y-Bala, situated under the shadow of Electric Mountain, next to Lake Padarn. As soon as we have unpacked the car I pour myself the first in a series of red wines. It doesn’t touch the sides. Neither does the second, third or fourth. But luckily Mandy has been to the shops and got plenty of beer, wine and food in. I set about knocking up some pasta. All in all there is my girlfriend Helen, Frank, Andy and Mandy, their two kids Ella and Little Ewen, three mates Mark, Big Ewen and Lucy and myself. After we eat everyone starts to relax a little. Andy sets about reassuring me about the climb isn’t going to kill me.

"Look, you aren’t going to die", he says.
"Good", I reply.
"You may think you are but..."
"Cheers."
"I’ll choose an easy route that's juggy and full of holes."

The author, Clarky, Andy Kirkpatrick and Big Ewen

We weren’t going to Cromlech any more. I think straight away the shambling bearded mess he sees in front of him has convinced him we need to try something a bit less dramatic on our first outing. I gather juggy is referring to the big jugs that my sister was telling me about via email. This is starting to sound like a piece of piss. I open the third bottle of wine. I was at university in Hull at the same time as Lucy. I haven’t seen her for twelve years. She was kicked off her course about the same time as me. I remember coming into my department on several occasions and hearing one of the lecturers saying: “My word Mr Doran, you’ve fallen off the wagon with great gusto again. And it’s only 11am.” I say one of the lecturers – It could have been any of them. White men, grey hair, black clothes.

It was suggested not long afterwards that I take a ‘break’ from academia. I eventually struggled back onto my course and scored a completely uninspiring 2:2. A drinker’s degree. Lucy informs me that she finished a degree last year, scoring a prize winning first in Spanish. Mandy comments that Lucy and I both still “like a drink”. A phrase which speaks volumes about someone over the age of thirty, really. We conclude that it is because neither of us feel ill or are sick after drinking. We have the ‘abiltiy’ to carry on stumbling on through the night, muttering ‘just another quick one . . .’

But it is 3.30am and I’ve got a mountain to climb in a few hours so I turn in.

The next day we drive out and Andy tells me we are going to climb up Tryfan which is a “piece of piss”. My head is starting to buzz and I don’t feel hung over. These days this is as much of a bad sign as it is a good one. The day is crystal and sharp, I can see jagged peaks everywhere. Andy reels off their local names:

"That’s the Widowmaker."

"The greasy pole."

"Ha ha ha. That’s the Place of Skulls."

Fucking Christ.

"Oh man, there’s Mount Doom."

Hang on a second.

Frank joins in: "There’s the Bedwetter."

The pair of cunts. They laugh contentedly.

Andy tells me again that I’ve got nothing to worry about. He is developing a grin that stretches between his ears which seems to get bigger every time he tells me I’m not going to die. Not for the first time I try and remember if there is any chance he could be harbouring a grudge against me. The first time I got drunk with him in Hull – the first time he had ever been drunk - was a New Year’s Eve and he got so animated by 8pm I locked him in the back yard. In the rain. For an hour. I sat in the house in the toasty warmth, laughing at him through the window, knocking back glass after glass of red wine. I picture him surfing down the stairs on an ironing board with his birthday cake on his head. We pull up in a layby.

There is still time for me to run off.

When I was younger, my Dad told me that if I ever got snatched I should keep calm and work out the best route of escape and then run for it when no one was looking. Sage advice, except now I am in the middle of Llanberis which probably translates as The Valley of no Return. There is nothing anywhere. Nowhere to go. No-one anywhere. Apart from other climbers. Tanned, healthy, smiling, polite, sensible drinking, psychotic, sociopathic, climbers.

It occurs to me that one of the Welsh words for hill is cwymb which is one of the roots of the word cunt. It’s very apt.

Now you probably think I’m overreacting but as a confirmed city boy these things are terrifying. When you are used to high-rise blocks, urban sprawl, dense traffic and all night kebab shops - mountains and people who want to scale them are frankly unnatural.

About ten summers ago a group of us piled over to Rhyll, in north Wales. We had some business to take care of and while up there we decided to go for a stroll along the beach. Now Rhyll, just like Southport, has a tide that never seems to come in. In fact try as hard as you can most of the time you can never even find the sea. If you walk far enough out from Rhyll you will probably reach Dublin without so much as getting your shins wet. After about an hour we must have walked across four miles, so we stopped and rolled a joint. The sun was high in the sky, I was with friends, I had a little money in my pocket, it was summer time and I knew that very soon we would be going out on an epic bender in Liverpool. Things were as they should be. But then the fear hit me like a scud missile. Where were the fucking buildings? I span round like a whirling dervish.

There was nothing anywhere. I had never felt so exposed in my entire life. The potent grass, the baking sun and being in such alien surroundings had folded my brain in half. There was nothing anywhere. There was a total absence of interruption on the horizon. No 24-hour garages, no pubs, no doctor’s surgeries, office blocks, motorway flyovers, pylons, factories, blocks of flats, churches, phone boxes, abandoned mattresses – none of the things we expect from a civilized society. In my hyper aware state I thought I could see the curvature of the earth and started freaking out. Luckily, some time spent lying on my front staring at the sand calmed me down enough to make it back to the car - some of the way on my hands and knees.

So it may seem like an overreaction and of course, it is, but just as some bachelors are confirmed and some are eligible, as a city boy I’m in for life, baby.

I tend to summer in Manchester or, if I really need to get some fresh air and see the sea, I go to Newquay where at least they have internet cafes, cash machines, Greggs the Bakers and drug dealers.

But the day is beautiful and on a uniform but craggy piece of rock probably one or two hundred foot tall, people are practicing lead climbing and putting ropes up for others to follow. The sun dramatically appears over the peak behind us, it’s shaping up to be a fine day. "Someone died on that", says Andy pointing to the happy, oblivious climbers. "He tied off round a loose boulder and it worked free and slipped off, crushing him."

Behind him is Tryfan itself. It looks beautiful if somewhat, well, small. Piece of piss, I think again, but with less conviction.

At the top I can just about make out the two blocks that the locals call Adam and Eve. Not only do I have to get to the top but then I have to jump from one big rock to the other. In the spirit of liberalism we re-christen the rocks Adam and Steve. We pick our way through uninterested cows, calves and bulls. I stop, sit down and start putting my climbing shoes on. Andy starts laughing: "I don’t think you need them just yet."

I look at them. They are as thin as tracing paper. I look at the thousands of feet of scree above me. I think he has a point.

We start on the first part, which is a relatively steep hilly walk. The other two chatter but as I’m already out of breath and wheezing I keep myself to myself.

As we start climbing Andy explains his philosophy to reassure me: “My basic aim is just to climb really difficult, near impossible routes and then just sit round drinking beer for the rest of the year because it really pisses people off. I don’t do any practice for the rest of the year. I just turn up and do it.

“Really rich people come up to me and say: ‘I’d love to do what you’re doing but I can’t afford it.’ What they really mean is: ‘I’d love to do what you’re doing but there’s a good chance I might die.’

“In reality, more people die each year from eating bad mayonnaise than they do in climbing accidents. It’s just that much worse things can happen to you than dying on a climb.

“Even on a basic climb like this - a few years ago a loose rock fell and hit someone, tearing his arm off.”

Frank asks Andy how other climbers describe him and he says: “Psychopathic, stupid, that sort of thing.”

I have the overwhelming urge to start crying.

After an hour of walking and scrambling we reach a point where the crags jut upwards at an angle so great that we cannot go forwards without using rock climbing equipment and ropes. We start taking a much shallower, circuitous route around the mountain and even though all of us keep slipping over on scree and nearly falling off, we laugh heartily like we would at a video clip of a baby hurting its head on You’ve Been Framed.

I become aware of an absolutely obscene smell.

"Dead sheep", says Andy pointing directly up the cliff. "Must have fallen from up there."

He pauses for a few seconds.

"Right, we’ll climb with ropes from here."

The sheep is a rectangular shaped rug alive with maggots, with a stripped bare skull sticking out of it.

We sit yards away from it and start putting on our climbing shoes and eat the sandwiches that Mandy made for us. Andy straps all his equipment onto his harness.

I look down to see if I can see Frank’s car – it looks like a little red pinprick next to the road, which resembles a piece of cotton thread.

Something yellow and tiny is buzzing along the green glacial valley floor. It takes a second before I realise it’s a helicopter.

"The idiot copter", says Frank. "Someone will have rung from their mobile, ‘Help I’m stuck on a ledge. Come and get me.’ They’ll pick them off and then give them a good bollocking so they never come back again."

How can I be this far above a helicopter? It doesn’t make any sense. My head’s starting to go a little bit. My heart rate has increased and I need to piss really badly. On the plus side though, I’ve sweated so much I feel almost completely sober. We climb into our harnesses and strap on carabinas, the devices through which we will belay rope as we climb up to Andy.

Wishful thinking

Andy rattles through a brief lecture on what to do but starts climbing before he gets to the end of it.

As he climbs, he points out invisible footholds. He makes it look simple. He looks like Adam West as Batman, climbing up the side of a vertical building. But without a rope. He barks out random pieces of advice in the style of The Little Book of Calm or that really irritating paper clip with eyes on Microsoft Word 2000.

"Your arms are there to balance you. Don’t drag yourself up."

"When there are no footholds, smear onto the rock. Smear or disappear."

Christ.

"Be thinking at all times ‘Where are your feet?’"

"Watch what I’m doing. Try to follow me up."

When he is up to about 70ft he stops, ties his rope off round a boulder and shouts for Frank to start up. He is perched on the round rock like a gargoyle atop a massive ball bearing.

"I can’t see any of the fucking footholds at all", whispers Frank to me but starts making his way slowly up.

Then it’s time for me to follow. I say a quick Our Father and cross myself before checking my helmet and stepping up.

The closer you get to the rock, the smoother and more featureless it looks. I put my foot on the first foothold, one foot off the path. I pick my other foot off the floor and put it on the second foothold.

I can no longer see the thin path under me. All I can see are the almost non-existent cars and above that - acres of crag splayed out vertically across the painfully blue sky.

I feel like I’m holding onto an asteroid.

I start feeling physically sick, my knees start giving way, the distance starts rushing at my like some crazy Hitchcockian camera angle.

I’m two foot off the path.

I can’t go any further.

I’ve got that really terrible, mentally ill feeling that I first got last week when I saw the picture of the west wall of Cromlech.

Fucking Christ - I’ve got vertigo.

I feel bad about this but I’m not going any further – what was I thinking? I’m a coward and an alcoholic. Why am I up here? My presence here is about to ruin a perfectly enjoyable day out in Wales for everyone else. I should be skulking by a pool table, pressing pound coins into a juke box, hiding from the weekend in the back room of a pub.

"Andy, I’ve got to stop."

"What?"

"I can’t go any further. I’m terrified. My bottle’s gone completely. I’ve got to get off. You two can carry on without me. I’ll wait here."

"Don’t be daft. Just climb this bit, it’ll get easier. This is the hardest bit", he says, obviously lying. "You aren’t going to fall off."

The grin has gone now.

"I’ve got disco legs. My legs are shaking to fuck. I feel like Shakin’ Stevens. I can hardly support myself. My legs are shaking like a shitting dog’s", I whine.

Frank is looking down at me. He looks like he is trying not to be angry.

"John", says Andy sternly. "Honestly it’s like a pathway up here you can just walk along it to the top."

He’s blatantly only a twentieth of the way up a cliff. Why is he saying this?

"Andy, I’m having a nervous breakdown", I say, not deviating that far from the truth.

My breath is rattling in and out and my body and mind are preparing for imminent death.

I say a Hail Mary but I’m so afraid that I forget the words. Is forgetting the words worse than not praying at all? Is forgetting the words blasphemy? I try and think how many times I’ve used the Lord’s name in vain today alone. I also realise that even though I consider myself an atheist I still pray in times of perceived danger, when I’m in the fox hole, so to speak – in times when I need extra self-preservation. Well, I’ve discovered right at this very moment that I believe in God again. I believe in God when I'm having a bad time on drugs and a bad time on mountains. He must think I'm a right cunt. Is this a sin? It must be because it suggests blind panic, rather than faith. My theological crisis momentarily distracts me from my fear slightly and I seize the opportunity to push on a little.

Anyway I’ve got to go a little bit further, I won’t be able to look either of them in the face ever again. This is something that thousands of venture scouts, university students, PE teachers, born again Christians, keep fit fanatics, trainee priests, retired army majors, Australians, hippies, lesbian yachtswomen, amputee fund raisers, recovering alcoholics, brownies, nuns, freemasons, contract killers and piano tuners do every fucking weekend.

I’ve got to get higher than two foot off the ground.

The easiest way to get up to Andy is on the surface of the rock which seems slick in the sunshine and bulging out into the air. I inch over to a body-sized crack and start shuffling my way up inside it.

My legs spasm spastically and slap against either inside edge. I yank myself up bit by bit by my hands.

"Are you using your legs?" asks Andy.

"Yes", I lie.

"You’re doing well", he lies back.

I get to the top of the crack, there is a little bit of rock jutting out. I rest on my feet, cuddling the rock with my eyes shut.

This is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to me.

I know I’m not going to die. I know the rope I’m tied to is attached to a solid piece of rock. I know if I fall it will only be by a foot or two and even if the rope snaps it will only be the distance of one storey.

So why can’t I convince my brain that I’m not about to fall 2,000 feet to my death?

"Try the next bit. There’s a big jug for you to grab onto just there."

If the clouds parted and an army of demons on firey horseback rode down from the sky screaming along to 'Raining Blood’ by Slayer I couldn’t be more afraid.

I manage a couple more steps up. The rope that attaches me to Andy is as taut as a guitar string and he is putting a lot more effort into pulling on my rope than I think he should be.

I look up at Andy perched atop the big round curved piece of rock, looking totally at home.

"I’ve got to stop now. That really is it."

Perhaps he hears my voice cracking because he says OK without trying to push me any further.

I won’t use the word abject but . . . my first attempt at rock climbing has been a failure. I’ve only reached 30ft and I’ve realised I’ve got vertigo.

Next time, I’m going to try climbing from the ground.

So less than twenty minutes later we’re packing all the ropes away again. But the day isn’t totally lost because we can still walk to the top.

We track round to the back of Tryfan so we are inside the horseshoe and make our way up.

Stu, no longer stupid. John, still stupid

After about an hour I’m wishing I’d just climbed the fucking thing. At least I’d either be dead or hanging from some ropes waiting for the idiot copter. As it is, the effort is phenomenal. This is where fitness would have come in handy. As with the not drinking and not smoking - going to the gym every day had not gone that well over the previous ten weeks. I’d managed to get up to 14 minutes on the rowing machine, eight on the treadmill and half an hour on step. But there is nothing in the gym that simulates continuously walking up a 45 degree slope covered in marbles for two hours.

Towards the top, the scree is turning to big blocks of limestone that have been worn into massive clints and grikes over hundreds of thousands of years by the continuous Welsh rain. It is at this point you first get the sense that you are up a mountain rather than a really annoying hill. There is something of the other about this place – I can’t even imagine how desolate and post-apocalyptic a really remote and tall mountain must look.

As if to shame me for my pompous internal monologue, a girl strides past me with a puppy close behind her.

"Come on Sooty!" she chides as the 12” dog climbs past me

Up above me I can see Andy and Frank laughing and pointing at the dog.

"Come on John, don’t let the dog beat you", shouts Andy.

I wave and smile back, glad that they seem to be having fun at least.

Then two men well into their retirement years pass me as well. One of them, actually, has a walking stick.

I look round expecting to see Professor Stephen Hawking saying “Nice day for it” to me as he trundles past.

Eventually I get to the top of Tryfan’s first and lowest peak out of three. As I walk across the ridge to the main peak I look down the sheer drop either side. There are mountain goats up here with massive horns and dreadlocked fleeces. They look like Satan’s little helpers.

Minutes later, with absolutely no sense of ceremony whatsoever, l’m at the top of my first mountain, albeit one I’ve walked up rather than climbed.

Now I’d always presumed that mountain climbing was faked in the same way the moon landings were. That all these photographs of men who look a little bit like Roy Comfort, the man in the pencil drawings illustrating the Joy of Sex, men with snow in their beards, holding flags, were taken on a secret soundstage hidden away at the back of Pinewood studios. I was sure that if you looked closely enough at the pictures of Edmund Hillary on top of Everest all the shadows would appear to be going in different directions or one of the boulders would mysteriously seem to have a number seven painted on it.

But no. I am at the top of Tryfan and if I’ve got to the top of my mountain it is entirely possible that Sir Edmund got to the top of his as well.

The weather has held and the view is vertiginously magnificent, inspirational almost. And just as my mind starts wandering off on some sub-Wordsworthian Man and Nature wankfest someone’s mobile phone goes off.

"Hello!" shouts the climber answering the phone. "I’m on the mountain."

Of course, we aren’t on our own, as I’d imagined it. There are people all over Tryfan and there are at least four dogs. There is orange peel everywhere.

For anyone who has never been up a mountain before the closest thing I can describe it to is being down Walthamstow market on a Saturday afternoon.

But it’s nice and cheery and everyone says hello to each other. Men clamber up over the lip and detach themselves from ropes. I peer over the edge.

Sweet Jesus. There’s no way I would have made it up that alive. I take photos and roll myself a cigarette as Andy and Frank jump from Adam to Steve.

After twenty minutes I can hardly stand up.

"Come on", says Andy, "we’d better make a move."

"How do you want to go down", he asks, "quick and hard or slow and easy?"

"Slow and easy", I say. "No contest."

"OK", he replies before ignoring my answer completely.

We go straight down a massive scree slope all the way to the bottom. It takes about two hours to get down. Unfortunately, after literally five minutes I’m so tired I can’t stand up and I have to slide down on my arse.

If I thought that only being able to climb 30ft in the air was humiliating, this is worse. The other two are laughing and both slip over on the loose rock and nearly fall to their deaths. I relish this with great schadenfraude.

Even the sheep on the lower slopes give me withering stares. Nearing the bottom Andy waits for me to catch up. My legs are going like Elvis’s and sweat, the consistency of hot olive oil, is still pouring down my back. I take off my hat and wring it – about a quarter of a pint of liquid streams off it.

"Jesus Christ", says Andy, genuinely horrified.

"It’s good to sweat though, he adds. It means you’re burning calories."

I wonder where the liquid’s coming from though. Is it my liquidised pancreas? There can’t be any water left in my body. When we reach the bottom Andy starts laughing and pointing at my tracksuit bottoms. The pair that he lent me.

I’ve worn a hole clean through the seat of the pants and my boxershorts are hanging down in shreds from the waistband. My humiliation is complete but I am beyond caring. My head is whirring and all sorts of lovely ‘prepare for death’ drugs are flooding through my body.

On the way back we realise we are locked out of the cottage so we go to the pub. I order a pint of Stella but I just can’t face it. I leave almost half of it. "Please", I say to the other two, "don’t tell anyone."

I can tell they think I’m talking about the climb but actually I mean not being able to finish my drink.

Andy is greeted by groups of rock climbers having an early evening pint.

"Didn’t expect to see you here climbing", says one.

"No." Andy replies. "We’ve just been for a walk."

Back at the cottage I stupidly insist on cooking – a meal which isn’t ready until about 10pm but then the wine and the beer start flowing and the day’s traumas are put behind us.

One by one everyone starts turning in.

"Time for another quick one?" asks Lucy at around 2am.

I eventually manage to drag my battered carcass to bed at five-ish.

The next day we say our goodbyes and get in the car. Everyone’s had a good time even if I’ve fallen at the first hurdle. The day is the warmest of the year so far. Bikers are out in force travelling in phalanxes back from Wales to the south of England.

Every time we stop at a service station the same group of bikers is there before us. They are the most colour co-ordinated bikers I have ever seen. A man in purple leathers stands next to a bright purple performance bike and likewise his friend in yellow and green. They lean on their machines smoking and chatting. One, stood next to them is dressed head to foot in black leather and still has his helmet on.

"He must be boiling", says Frank.

He looks like an insect or an extra from a bizarre sci-fi film.

Back in the car I’m starting to panic. I know it’s just my hangover but I feel something’s wrong. I’m convinced we’re all going to die. Frank starts driving at 85mph.

Someone opens the back window to let in some air. It snaps out with a bang.

"Christ!" I shout, thinking we’ve had a blow out.

Get a grip, I think to myself.

An hour later the traffic slows down to 5mph. There are people stood all across the motorway.

The bright purple biker and his green and yellow mate are stood on the hard shoulder smoking cigarettes. As we pass by, I see the biker in black leathers lying face down on the ground, not moving. Sun is glittering off his helmet. His bike is about 50ft away from him on its side. Someone is stood over him shouting into a mobile phone.

My hands are shaking and flapping about in my lap. I can’t keep them still. We’ve got five hours at the very least until we get back to London. Five hours until I can have a drink.

Time for one more?

To learn more about "Hull's second best climber" visit Andy's website. He does stand up a lot and he's the funniest guy I know. Except, as he's pointed out, I don't have a particularly good sense of humour.

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